October 14 28th Sunday of the Year (B)
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Wisdom 7:7-11). This is part of what is presented as King Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. Solomon was regarded in biblical tradition as the wise man par excellence. He is presented in the Bible (1 Kings 3:7-9; 5:12) as petitioning God to give him an understanding mind to govern God’s people, able to discern between good and evil. The Book of Wisdom was written centuries after Solomon’s day, but in it the king is praying for wisdom required to govern properly. In this book, however, the “king” who prays is really everyman, and the theme of the prayer is that the gift of divine wisdom is required to lead a life with a sense of purpose. This point is well expressed towards the end of “Solomon’s” prayer (Wisdom 9:9-12): “With you is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present when you made the world; she understands what is pleasing in your sight and what is right according to your commandments. Send her forth from the holy heavens, and from the throne of your glory send her, that she may labour at my side, and that I may learn what is pleasing to you. For she knows and understands all things, and she will guide me wisely in my actions and guard me with her glory. Then my works will be acceptable”. The present reading presents “King Solomon”, that is everyman, as judging this divine gift of wisdom as the pearl of great price, to be prized above all else.
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 89). May we gain wisdom of heart.
Second Reading (Hebrews 4:12-13).
We can get a fuller meaning of the depth of this reading is we read it within the larger original setting of this Epistle to the Hebrews. In the preceding section the author has been warning against unbelief in the Christian community to which he is writing. He recalls at length the history of Israel’s desert wanderings and the biblical message that due to their unbelief many of that generation did not enter the Promised Land. All this is put in poetry in Psalm 95(94):7-11, with its refrain “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. The Psalm says that because of their unbelief that generation did not enter the Promised Land, which God calls “my rest”. God’s voice has been active throughout Israel’s history, calling on his people not to harden their hearts; otherwise they would not enter God’s rest, the inheritance in store for them. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrew applies the same words to the Christian community he is addressing in this letter. God’s voice is still addressing the same message to all, warning against unbelief. In today’s reading he speaks not of God’s voice, but of God’s word being alive and active. In Isaiah 55:11 God had said: “So shall the word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it”. In today’s reading the word of God is God himself speaking to the individual conscience, calling for that response of faith. No one can hide from God, nor from his word, his voice, speaking within, in the innermost part of the human being.
Gospel (Mark 10:17-30).
This reading is best known as the narrative of the rich young man, although the biblical text does not say he was young. He addresses Jesus as “Good Master”. Jesus replies that no one is good but God alone, possibly to stress the sacredness of Christian calling and discipleship. The young man inquires about the requirements to gain eternal life, life in the hereafter with God. Jesus’ reply implies that the criterion is the keeping of the commandments, and he cites commandments from the second part of the Decalogue, having to do with personal relationships. When the young man says that he has kept these from his earliest days, he seems to indicate that he expects more to be demanded of him. Jesus’ reply must have come as a surprise. The young man asked aout entering eternal life. Jesus’ answer is that giving up all he has, and giving it to the poor, will bring him treasure in heaven.
The text goes on to broaden the teaching. Not merely for the young man, but for all with riches it is difficult to enter the kingdom of God, that is eternal life. Jesus stresses the point by the well known hyperbole of the camel passing through the eye of a needle, that is something quite impossible. But impossible only by human reckoning. For God all things are possible, and coming to inherit eternal life is finally a gift of God, not something attainable by human resources.
The final section regards the rewards for those who have abandoned everything to follow Christ, as was the case of the apostles, and in their own way for all believers/ They will be richly rewarded here on earth by a new family, houses, sisters, mothers, children and land – to be taken not literally but as meaning the new Christian community and the support it offers. There is no mention of fathers – possibly from the belief that for the Christian community there is only one Father, the Father in heaven. The real reward will be in the next world, and eternal life, a destination that prompted the rich young man’s question in the first instance.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day
The one thing necessary – The year of Faith
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. God’s voice, God’s word, is alive and active. The word that goes forth from his mouth does not return to him empty, but it shall accomplish that which he purposes, and succeed in the thing for which he sent it. As God said to the prophet Jeremiah: “Is not my word like fire, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29). It has been active throughout history, and like a two-edged sword it pierces one’s innermost being and judges emotions and thoughts. Through his word, and his divine activity, God is speaking to his Church and the world today, calling on it to pray for that divine wisdom for which “Solomon” called on God, to send that heavenly wisdom forth from his hold heavens to make us learn what is pleasing to God, to appreciate the one thing necessary, the pearl of great price. God’s voice was again present in his Son Jesus as he reminded us of what is required to inherit eternal life, to enter the kingdom of heaven. The expression “kingdom of heaven” can mean a variety of things, depending on the context, but in that of the rich young man it means eternal life, in the next world. Not that Christianity is just otherworldly. The commandments cited by Jesus to the young man’s question about what to do to inherit eternal life had to do with this world and human interrelationships. Yet Jesus’ central message was that the Gospel message is about eternal life, not just life here on earth.
The voice of Jesus is addressing us today in a particular way. There is commemoration of the fiftieth year of the opening of the Vatican Council in 1962, and much writing and discussion as to the spirit of the Council and what has not been achieved. As the Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us, there is a danger of forgetting that the purpose of the Council was to call the Church to inner renewal. There is a danger of getting lost in externals, as if these would really renew. We live in an age with pressure towards the secular, with no place for religion in public life. There is the danger of not listening to the voice of God speaking, calling us to accept Christ and Christianity for what they are—the pearl of great price, reminding us of the one thing necessary, keeping the commandments within a living Christian community.
To commemorate the opening of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago the Church has proclaimed a year of faith. It is an occasion for all concerned — dioceses, parishes, various religious groups and individuals, to come to a deeper knowledge of the Christian vision and an enthusiasm for living it. The Christian vision has given individuals and society stability and a sense of purpose down the centuries. This is something our own age and country badly need today. It is a vision that is not just of the mind. It must be sustained by a living sacramental faith, with Jesus at the centre. Christianity has changed the course of history. It can do so again. For God all things are possible.